All About Acne
Hardly anyone escapes their teen years without having at least some acne, and some people continue to have breakouts into adulthood.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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We’ve all been there: the morning of a big date or important meeting, you look in the mirror to discover a major breakout. Whether it's just one pimple or a cluster, acne is one common problem that has several solutions.
What Is Acne?
Acne, or acne vulgaris, occurs when glands in the skin produce and secrete too much of the skin's natural oil, called sebum. Sebum clogs pores in the skin, resulting in a pimple — or, worse, several pimples. Bacteria in the sebum can cause inflammation and worsen the acne.
A pimple or acne breakout can pop up anywhere, but usually strikes the face. Other common areas for acne breakouts include the neck, shoulders, chest, and back.
Acne is a very common problem — actually, it's the most common skin condition affecting people in the United States. As many as 50 million Americans live with acne, and most of them are in their teen or young adult years. Although anyone can get acne — boys, girls, men, and women — at any age or stage of life, it's most common in teens. About 85 percent of teenagers will eventually get acne.
Causes of Acne
Acne can be caused or exacerbated by a number of different things, including:
- Changes in hormone levels (such as during puberty or menstruation)
- Cosmetics or hair or skin products
- Having a family history of acne
- Some medications
- Something rubbing on the skin (like a hat or helmet)
- Vigorous scrubbing of the skin
Acne Treatment and Prevention
There are several different acne treatment options, and which one is best for you depends on how severe your acne is. A good skin care regimen is often the first line of defense for mild acne or the occasional pimple — that means washing your face no more than twice a day (but always after sweating) with a gentle cleanser and lukewarm water.
Sometimes, more treatment is needed to keep skin healthy. To clear up or prevent an acne breakout, you can try:
- Over-the-counter medicated cleansers, lotions, creams, gels, face pads, and morePrescription-strength topical ointments, creams, lotions, and other acne treatments
- Oral prescription treatments, including antibiotics or oral contraceptives for women
- Isotretinoin (Sotret, Claravis, Amnesteem, Accutane, and others), a pill prescribed to manage very severe acne
- Injections of a corticosteroid
- Laser treatments, including blue light therapy, pulsed light and heat energy therapy and diode laser treatment.
If you have acne, you will probably have to treat it for for a long period of time — not just during an acne breakout. Work with a dermatologist to determine the most appropriate treatment for your acne, and how long you should follow the treatment regimen. It's important not to stop acne treatment before your doctor says it's okay — otherwise, you run the risk of having another acne breakout just when your skin starts to clear.
Without treatment, you may experience persistent acne breakouts and scarring of the skin, as well as anxiety and low self-esteem. Often, acne will clear up after you're out of the teen years, but even some adults struggle with acne and problem skin and need treatment for it.
You don't have to deal with persistent acne — nor should you. Try over-the-counter treatments and healthy habits to help clear up problem skin, or for more severe acne see a dermatologist for prescription-strength treatments.
Video: Acne Scars
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